"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in the current issue of Urban Habitat.
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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

World War II Veterans

The New York Times/Bay Citizen reported (12/23) on the story of Carl E. Clark, a black WW II Veteran who is, today, being considered for a Medal of Honor for his heroic and successful act of putting out a fire on his ship in 1945.  The reporter noted that Clark "is one of an estimated one million black World War II veterans whose accomplishments were routinely ignored by the military."

This made me think of another area in which black WW II veterans are routinely ignored -- by historians and popular culture.   Danny Glover made a film, Freedom Song, which attempts to rectify our collective amnesia. [You can borrow this film, in its entirety or a 30 minute excerpted version from the Freedom school library]. This superb docu-drama illustrates the important role Southern World War II veterans played when they returned home.  After fighting to defend democracy against fascism abroad, especially in Europe, black veterans returned home with a renewed sense of purpose, confidence and abilities to fight for democracy at home. Amzie Moore was one of many....

When Moore returned to Mississippi [1945], he discovered a climate of increased repression. News photographs of German women sitting on the laps of African American soldiers had angered white Mississippians. “For at least six to eight months, at least one Negro each week was killed.” In 1950, Moore, Dr. T. R. M. Howard, and a group of black Mississippians founded the Regional Council of Negro Leadership in the all-black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi. The purpose of the council was to encourage “first-class citizenship” —voting, office holding, and property owning. The organization, whose rallies were attended by thousands, began a campaign which included encouraging boycotts of service stations where blacks couldn’t use the restrooms and political pressure on the state to equalize public facilities. After the Brown decision [1955] and the formation of the White Citizens Councils, Moore sensed a movement to drive blacks from the Delta, because the whites sensed that otherwise blacks “might dominate them politically, and . . . that,” according to Moore, “is really the beginning of our trouble.”

In l955, Moore was elected President of the Cleveland branch of the NAACP, a group of eighty-seven members. Moore, with the support of Medgar Evers, soon expanded the branch to include 564 members, but soon violence against blacks in the Delta escalated. The murders of Dr. George W. Lee and Emmett Till, followed by Dr. T.R.M. Howard’s decision to leave the state, thwarted efforts to enforce the political gains promised by Brown. Moore noted a “great exodus of leaders from the state due to the pressure that was being brought on by white organizations bent and bound on maintaining slavery.” In 1956, the fourteen blacks who attempted to vote in the East Cleveland precinct were greeted at the ballot box by a man armed with a .38 Smith and Wesson, who ordered them to place their ballots in a brown envelope. Moore went to the telephone to inform the Justice Department that the group had been prevented from voting. Moore continued to carry on his isolated battle to enfranchise blacks, printing up copies of the Constitution and opening citizenship schools. His ability to build connections outside of the state offered him not only personal friendships with activists like Ella Baker, but economic support from Baker’s organization In Friendship.

In l960, frustrated by the bureaucracy of the NAACP, Moore attended a meeting of SNCC in Atlanta, Georgia, and invited Bob Moses and the voter registration drive to Mississippi. Moses’ first impression of Moore is that he was a man “who lives like a brick wall in a brick house, dug into this country like a tree beside the water.” Moore often accompanied Moses on his early trips to encourage voter registration among rural blacks, sharing with Moses his connections throughout the state. Once the SNCC workers arrived in Mississippi, Moore’s home served as an improvised Freedom House. Moore recalled that he “used to have sleeping in my house six and eight and ten, twelve, who had come. I bought a lots of cheese, and always we’d eat cheese and peaches, and sometimes we would get spaghetti and ground chuck or ground beef and make a huge tub of meatballs and spaghetti to fill everybody up.”  Moore agreed with Bob Moses about the difficulties voter registration was facing.
  • Because of “Hitlerism” tactics that are employed by whites in the Delta, it is extremely difficult to go into a community and start registering people.
  • First, they must lose all the fear that now grips the hearts and minds of 99 percent of the Negro people.
  • Secondly, they must regain their self-respect and self-reliance. This can be done by teaching them the philosophy of non-violence.
  • Thirdly, they must be taught how to endure suffering because if there are any changes in the immediate future, there will undoubtedly be a lot of suffering among the people who attempt to exercise their constitutional rights.
  • These things must be taught before a voter registration program in the Delta can be successful
Moses termed Amzie Moore his “father in the movement.” To Moses, Moore “was what I like to think an organizer should be—working behind the scenes, helping to set up things. . . . He didn’t have a formal education; he still had his common roots, which didn’t have that sort of institutional stamp a university can put on you. On the other hand, he had a very special analytical and well-read mind. So he could talk to the people and he could talk to the powerful.”

-------From Chapter Five in Lessons from Freedom Summer

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Social Movement Forum at USF

December 2, 2010
Thanks to Alicia Maldonado, James Bautista, Marilyn DeLaure and the Communication Studies department at USF for organizing and hosting an inspiring event earlier this month.  And special thanks to Max Perez (former Immokalee organizer and now SF resident) and Mike Miller (whose resume is impossible to identify briefly) for being panelists.  Mike and Max wonderfully complimented each other -- Max giving a history of how the Immokalee workers managed to take down TACO BELL and Mike putting Max's story in the context of why it is so hard to organize today.

Highlights for me:
Max: In order to increase wages and conditions, they went on three failed strikes against the growers.  They didn't have enough resources for a sustained strike.  So, they brainstormed alternative strategy.  They realized that the corporations that bought the tomatoes that they picked were extremely defensive about their brand.  That allowed them to go after Taco Bell (first) with the demand that the company pay an extra "penny a pound" for tomatoes from the growers (the middle men) and that they would insure that penny made it down the chain to the pickers themselves, as well as insisting on the ability of the workers to take bathroom and water breaks during the hot work days.  They were able to threaten the "good name" of the Taco Bell brand with an obvious-to-all reasonable request by enlisting students on college campuses, who did much to get out the word.
Mike:  Explained, through a short fable, how many nonprofits have unwittingly been co-opted --  he calls this, "The Plague of Nonprofits."  From a draft of an upcoming article he will publish:
The step-by-step process of building power—get people together; win something small; use the victory to train leaders and create confidence in the efficacy of collective action; reflect on the meaning of what was collectively done from the perspective of basic democratic principles and the social and economic justice teachings of the world’s great religious traditions; use the victory to recruit skeptics (either individuals or organizations) who now see that this organization might know what it’s doing; take on a more recalcitrant target because now you have more people power to negotiate, boycott, disrupt, get-out-the-vote or otherwise affect institutional power—all this is necessarily abandoned by organizations that are focused now on the competent design of programs.  Instead of looking at the different self-interests of those with institutional power, self-interests that have to be adversely affected if change is to come about, the focus becomes one of convincing decision-makers “on the merits” of the case.